- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

DETROIT (AP) - Michael Roberts had already enjoyed a long career in his native St. Louis before he bought the defunct Omni Hotel on Detroit’s east riverfront in 2010.

Since then, Roberts has poured about $5 million into renovating what everyone agrees ought to be a jewel, a historic Parke-Davis pharmaceutical laboratory building transformed 25 years ago into a boutique inn as part of the Stroh River Place complex.

Omni and other previous owners couldn’t make money there for a variety of reasons, including a location some thought of as too remote from downtown, the Detroit Free Press (https://on.freep.com/1BgaVqC ) reported. The 106-room hotel was closed when Roberts bought it.

Since taking over and reopening, he has demolished an adjoining tent-like structure that was used for large parties and conferences so that he can build a new conference center in its place. He also has built two new entrances from the outdoor riverside patio for ease in entering and exiting the lower-level bar and restaurant, and renovated about half the rooms, including the inn’s multistory penthouses.

Among other changes, he’s building an inground swimming pool surrounded by a patio facing the river.



Roberts also is testing a new idea for branding the property as a resort within the city, with a location on what he’s calling the Detroit Riviera.

“The concept is to create a new vision for this hotel and the Detroit RiverWalk,” he said last week. “It will be the Roberts Riverwalk Hotel on the Detroit Riviera.”

Warming to his topic, he said, “I may be able to create the equivalent of an urban resort, something that will be new and different and never done before. What is the definition of a resort? It’s a place you can come for a tranquil life while you stay, away from everybody, a home-away-from-home concept.”

An attorney by training, Roberts served two terms on the St. Louis City Council many years ago before focusing on his career as an entrepreneur. He built a portfolio that includes several hotels and broadcast outlets.

A friend suggested in 2010 that Roberts take a look at the shuttered Omni on the riverfront. Long known as a boutique property, the hotel had played host to Frank Sinatra when he performed in Detroit, with his entourage taking an entire floor. But a series of operators had failed to make a profit at the location.

Roberts’ goal now is to continue to upgrade the hotel so that the service matches his vision of a resort on the Detroit Riviera. That - and to find a role in the city’s comeback for both himself and his hotel.

“We will be providing training in every department, from the housekeeping and kitchen staffs to the front desk,” he said. “I am investing in people and in this facility so we can be a big part of the city’s resurgence.”

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, https://www.freep.com

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